Bob's timely election coverage 2: all politics is local

This is the second in a series of blogposts I wrote back in May in the wake of the local and European elections, and failed to publish then. I posted the first last night, about UKIP. This looks at some of the other political parties: the Lib Dems, Greens, Labour and BNP. Tomorrow, finally, I will publish a post on the far left parties.

There is a part of me which takes some comfort from this outcome of the election: the Liberal Democrats have been more or less evacuated from the European parliament and lost control of several councils across the country. Their destruction in Lewisham is not surprising, but it is interesting to see that they were nearly wiped out in neighbouring Southwark, one of their London heartlands since Simon Hughes’ first (racist and homophobic) campaignagainst Peter Tatchell back in the 1980s.

Looking at who came second across London (see first map here, from the Newsshoper) in the council elections yields some interesting insights. Among other things, it shows that there is a swathe of what we could call “the outer inner city” where the Greens did fairly well. In the proportionately distributed Euro elections, the Green Party picked up one in ten votes. To use Lewisham as an example, the Greens received 16% of the vote in the local elections. This is despite almost no national or local media time (in contrast to the ubiquitous presence of UKIP).

This builds on fairly strong performances by Green politicians such as Darren Johnson and Jenny Jones in council chambers such as Lewisham, but more importantly the GLA and European Parliament. Interestingly, they have been less prominent on traditionally “green” issues than on social issues such as housing and immigration. This points to – in London at least – an important and welcome counterweight to UKIP, and one which confirms that Labour cannot be too complacent about some of its traditional voting fodder in thinking through its response to the Farage phenomenon

The surge to Labour in London’s “inner cross” (the capital’sless affluent areas stretching up to Enfield and down to Croydon as well aseast along the river and west towards Heathrow - see second map here, from All That's Left) has had a few dramatic effects.

Lewisham, where I live, now has just one single non-Labour councillor – a Green in Brockley ward. Lewisham also has a directly elected borough mayor from the same party, with very extensive executive powers. Unlike Labour's Michael Harris, I don’t think this is healthy for local democracy; it closes down opportunities for scrutiny and accountability and opens up opportunities for corruption and nepotism.

The most welcome news is the abysmal performance of the fascist British National Party. Its vote has been steadily plummeting since the mid-noughties: in 2006, it received a shocking 18% of the vote in the wards it contested; in 2007, its total vote peaked at 293,000 – but by 2013 it was already down to 5% of the vote share and 15,000 votes nationally.

However, anti-fascists should take little comfort from this. Typically, fascist electoral politics fades during right-wing Tory governments (while violent street movements, such as the English Defence League, tend to grow), and the BNP has been fairly hilariously tearing itself apart in the last couple of years.

But the real reason for its decimation is obviously the existence of UKIP, which matched the BNP vote for vote when it launched in 2007 and has been growing rapidly as the BNP declined since 2009. While it is ridiculous to call UKIP or its voters fascist, we have to accept that a very significant section of the English population feel the appeal of deeply xenophobic and anti-Muslim authoritarian populist politics if not tainted by the BNP’s toxic association with violence and Nazism.

[2014 has also been the year of the proliferation of oddball far right parties, such as Britain First, National Action, the South East Alliance and the Patriotic Socialists. These are unlikely to have the electoral impact the BNP achieved in its heyday, for the reasons already set out. But they do have the potential to intensify violence and division on our streets, and we need to keep up the fight against them.]

Next: the left


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